New York

NY COVID Positives Near 3-Month High as New Mask Guidance Looms

Cuomo has told cities to "seriously consider" adopting the CDC's new mask guidance, and New York City is due to weigh in as soon as Monday

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New York had more than 3,000 people test positive for COVID-19 Friday, the highest one-day total and first time over that threshold since early May, in just the latest consequence of the delta variant's rapid spread.

Some 3,050 people tested positive for the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office said in a statement Saturday, the highest single-day total since May 7. More than half of them were in New York City alone.

The number of people hospitalized rose 40% in a week, and the number of intubated ICU patients rose about 25%.

The state's 7-day rolling average of the percentage of positive tests now stands at 2.4%; just one week ago, it was only 1.66%.

An unreleased CDC presentation, obtained by NBC News Friday, underlines the rising severity of the situation -- an estimated 35,000 symptomatic infections a week nationwide among those who are already fully vaccinated. It's not clear from the state's release Saturday how many of those 3,000+ positives are among vaccinated people.

(Even so, the unvaccinated are still eight times more likely to get infected, and 25 times more likely to be hospitalized or die, the CDC has said.)

An internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention slide presentation argues that “the war has changed” against COVID-19.

New mask mandates are on the table, as are mandatory vaccinations or testing for public employees. But even as Cuomo urges businesses to reopen their offices, federal officials are warning that the delta variant is a new beast -- potentially more contagious than the common cold.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to make an announcement Monday on a possible mask mandate. On Friday, he appeared on CNN to discuss vaccine efforts and the city's response to the rising spread of delta.

"We will address masks. We will, but we have to make sure everything we do supports vaccination. Yeah, you can do more than one thing, but you better make sure the two things support each other, especially the most important piece, which is by far vaccination," the mayor said.

The Tokyo Olympics demonstrate the risks of delta clearly -- the city has set new pandemic records for infections four days running.

Pandemic of the Unvaccinated

Delta, the variant that was first found in India and is now in at least 104 countries, has dramatically increased its prevalence across the U.S. over the last month, accounting now for well more than 80% of tested samples, according to the CDC.

Scientific evidence has shown delta spreads far more easily than earlier strains of the virus and causes more severe outcomes for those infected, prompting renewed pushes at all levels of government to get people vaccinated if they haven't been.

Officials now believe the delta variant may be as contagious as the chickenpox -- well known to generations of parents as one of life's most catchable viruses.

Earlier this week, the CDC said vaccinated people infected with delta may have the same viral load as an infected unvaccinated person, and be just as contagious.

The World Health Organization, which has called it the "fastest and fittest" variant yet, expects it to become the dominant strain globally.

Given the relatively minute subset of positive samples sequenced to assess potential strain variations, both CDC and local experts believe the prevalence of delta, which is classified as a variant of concern, to be much higher than reported.

The variant is being blamed for a surge in cases across the United States that has seen daily confirmed new cases rise five-fold since July 1 -- now more than 100,000 people a day testing positive nationwide, back to levels last seen in early March. While hospitalizations and daily deaths remain comparably low, those are lagging indicators and may rise as delta spreads in unvaccinated areas.

The latest data from the CDC shows they already are on the increase.

"There is a message that is crystal clear: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said recently. "We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk."

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